Antiquated Premiere


Tim Brookes is the founder of the Endangered Alphabets Project and author of Endangered Alphabets. His current project is to create a Red List of the world’s writing systems, identifying every script currently at use in the world and assessing its degree of health or vulnerability.

Belbo orders Abu to change all words, make each A become AKKA, and each O become ØLLA for a paragraph to look almost Finnish.”

Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum.

Some time after the first World War, an absurd and surreal event in itself, the Surrealists in Paris invented the Exquisite Corpse (from the original French term cadavre exquis, literally translated as exquisite cadaver).

At first a game, later a deliberate method for creating surreal images and narratives, the Exquisite Corpse was a writing exercise in which everyone in the group followed a sentence sequence (adverb/adjective/noun/verb/adjective/noun, for example), passing the paper on after each segment so that nobody saw what the previous person had written.


Growing up in England, my family played this as a parlor game called Consequences; much later, I adapted it as a poetry teaching tool called The Bloody-Minded Kettle, a phrase taken from one of our most successful — that is, bizarre — collective efforts.

In a frenzy,
a miraculous
Italian sausage
the plastic

The mystical
paper crane
laughed at
the irritable
price tag.

Alas, I wrote and saved my entire file of Bloody-Minded Kettles in Clarisworks, which when translated to Word produced its own brand of surreal text:

wΩkZZ÷c^˜Z÷o{kZcc^˜cRîRîo{™ˇÅˇÅˇ ›ˇ{fi¶ˇÁˇ g9NsNsBBJRRîNsF1JR^˜¶ˇ ÊˇwΩùˇÅˇÅˇÁˇ kZcg9súc^˜g9cVµo{{fi¶ˇÁˇ {fikZkZwΩZ÷kZg9o{g9kZ•ˇÅˇÅˇÁˇ{fi{fiˇwΩüˇÁˇkZg9NsVµüˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇÅˇ#Áˇ

Who would have suspected that in the field (literally) of US women’s soccer, as usual leading the men’s team in every respect, the game would be reinvented yet again, this time not with folded paper but in the high-tech realm of instantaneous voice-driven TV subtitling?

Come with me now, via YouTube, to the USWNT friendly against New Zealand on Jan. 17.


The commentary is in Spanish. Sitting in a corner of the commentary booth, though, is the luckless and underpaid NBC bot, who has been told to translate the running comments from Spanish to English and type them to the screen in real time.

Given her job and her wage, she is statistically likely to be female. I think of her as Inès. She doesn’t want to be there, but her daughter plays soccer, and this is her chance to swing a plus-one ticket to get her into the game. Her daughter, Rosalita, can’t decide whether she is an Alex Morgan fan or a Megan Rapinoe fan.

The commentators, heartlessly, can’t stop talking about ChatGPT. Inès knows her job is hanging by a thread.

What she is being asked to do is clearly too much. Even at the UN, they have better working conditions.

The referee blows; the game starts. Inès, channelling her inner Frida Kahlo, begins, defiantly, lyrically, in a monologue of non sequiturs of staggering inventiveness and beauty:

A classification has the most
Country entitled to keep up
Painting, whereas
cool. The company, the moon
Rocket reaches Arriva
Three pit for more series in
conco, minutos, and Wellington
An orangutan.
Who in the veinticuatro honest
Didn’t Alex Morgan but this is
Peridot has
The real but he made a grand
Well, as those who needs to be
Antiquated premiere.



Column, Minority Languages

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